[I've finally returned to the computer desk, after a long, irritating move from San Diego to Orlando! Wow, a month with no posts...]
Like most small casual game developers, I used licensed music in Starcrossed. $50 a track is right in my price range. The better tracks usually aren’t quite loopable when you download them, so you have to go in and snip bits off of them to make it work, but it typically doesn’t take too long. I picked what I thought were some pretty good “soothing” tracks for Starcrossed. But licensed tracks aren’t really well understood by players. Here’s a forum post on one of the portals:
I played the trial and it was driving me NUTS because I KNEW I’d heard that music in some other game. I spent most of my free trial trying to figure out where I’d heard it before.. turns out its the same theme music used in Deep Sea Tycoon.
Deep Sea Tycoon also bought the same $50 music track. And probably a half-dozen other games I also didn’t play. Since players don’t understand how licensed music works, it comes across as … well, as shady. On the plus side, relatively few players will ever notice. On the down side, I’ve occasionally seen it brought up as a negative point in casual-game reviews. Reviewers don’t understand how licensed music works, either!
The only alternative is to get custom music, which is expensive and a gamble. You never know if the musician will be able to deliver quite the right vibe for you. But at least you avoid the “recycled music” vibe.